Bears

The seat is getting hotter for Dolphins' Sparano

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The seat is getting hotter for Dolphins' Sparano

From Comcast SportsNet

DAVIE, Fla. (AP)Linebacker Karlos Dansby says the Miami Dolphins are playing to save coach Tony Sparanos job, which might mean hes doomed.

Sparano began the season on borrowed time, and an 0-3 start has left his status even more shaky. With tough road assignments looming in the next two games against the Chargers and Jets, Sparanos players acknowledged the urgent need for a turnaround.

Were putting him in a tough situation, Dansby said Monday. Weve got to play better. Right now his job is on the line, and weve got to do a better job of defending it for him. Were the only ones who can.

One day after a 17-16 loss Sunday at Cleveland, Sparano talked with reporters for 20 minutes but addressed his job insecurity only briefly.

I dont know anything about that, he said. Im getting ready for the San Diego Chargers.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross hasnt commented. Ross embarked on a public courtship with Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh after last season, and when talks fizzled, Sparano received an extension through 2013.

But for Sparano to keep his job that long, the Dolphins need to start winning. Among those attending the game in Cleveland was Ross good friend Carl Peterson, the former Kansas City Chiefs general manager, and his presence might have been a hint the owner is considering changes.

Including last season, Miami has dropped six games in a row. Problems range from penalties, a feeble pass rush and red zone inefficiency to mangled syntax.

Were going to find out what kind of team this team is, quarterback Chad Henne said after the game. He misspoke when he added, I know one thing about these guys: Theyre not going to stop quitting.

Or words to that effect. However, linebacker Kevin Burnett said things could go downhill fast.

At this point its going to be, which road are we going to take? Burnett said Monday. Are we going to take the road of pointing fingers and saying, You, you, you, or, Its the coach? Or are we going to take the road of saying, OK, were going to stick together, get fixed the things we need to get fixed, and find some way to pull out a win.

The defeat at Cleveland was the Dolphins closest game this season, which made it perhaps the toughest loss. Miami dominated all afternoon before folding at the finish.

Colt McCoy completed 10 passes in the first 56 12 minutes, then completed nine during an 80-yard touchdown drive that gave the Browns their first lead. The Dolphins defense turned soft at the worst possible time.

Thats where I expect some of the closers, some of the big-play players, to make those kind of plays, Sparano said. Ive got to find out who the closers are. I know who some of them should be.

When Miami reached midfield with a chance to pull the game out in the final minute, Henne threw three consecutive incompletions and then an interception.

It was part of a familiar pattern for Henne, who started the game 15 for 17 and went 4 for 12 the rest of the way. His passer rating is a career-best 82.4 but only 48.7 in fourth quarter, when he tends to struggle most.

As is Sparanos custom, he defended the quarterback.

He gave us a chance to win, the coach said.

A more meager contribution came from running back Reggie Bush, who rushed for 24 yards in 11 carries and fumbled twice. Through three games Bush has yet to make the impact anticipated, totaling just 80 yards rushing and 71 receiving.

The other offensive playmaker, Brandon Marshall, has only one touchdown. The Dolphins are scoring 17.6 points a game, almost identical to last year, when Ross complained the offense needed to be more dynamic and exciting.

But the most glaring statistic is zero wins, creating a gloomy mood at the Dolphins complex.

I know the work put in by the coaching staff and this team, Sparano said. My greatest frustration is not seeing them smile. I want to see the guys smile.

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

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USA Today

How Tarik Cohen is thriving as the Bears continue to put more on his plate

Mitchell Trubisky shook his head and grinned when he fielded yet another question this week about the touchdown pass Tarik Cohen threw against the Baltimore Ravens.

“Dang, you guys can’t get enough of this,” Trubisky said. “I talked about it after the game. Dowell (Loggains) was saying it was the best pass of the game. I’m like, ‘All right, geez, let him play quarterback.

“… He threw a dime ball. I love how he was fading away on it and celebrating on the 50-yard line. Zach (Miller) made a great catch. So A-plus; really impressive spiral, especially with the gloves on. Can’t count any of that out. Tarik’s a special player and it was an awesome throw.”

The point here is less about Cohen’s throw and more about the Bears finding yet another way for the rookie running back to make an impact. So far this year, Cohen has rushed 50 times, caught 26 passes, returned 14 punts and now thrown that historic touchdown. He’s been asked to block in pass protection more frequently, allowing him to be on the field more. And he’s worked with wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni and Kendall Wright (who Cohen referred to as another receiver coach for him) to expand his route tree, leading him to be the most-targeted player (33 targets) on the Bears through six weeks. 

That may seem like a lot to put on the plate of a fourth-round draft pick from an FCS school, but it hasn’t been too much for Cohen. 

“We need Tarik to be that guy for us — the best playmaker we have,” Loggains said. “There’s no secret there. And he’s a guy who we’ll continue to use, and people are aware of him. So how creative can we get with him? How many different things can we do with him? 

“Like, we’re stretching him. Mentally, he’s stretched to the max playing all these positions — motioning out to wide receiver, playing running back and doing more in the backfield with more carries. So we have to keep stretching him and keep using him in the offense.”

Opposing defenses have keyed on Cohen since his explosive debut Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, scheming to muffle his playmaking ability. But he still managed to nearly have a walk-off 73-yard run against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, and then in Week 6, with defenses figuring they could crash down on him on sweep plays to the edge, he (literally) threw another wrinkle into how to gameplan against him. The next time the Bears run a toss sweep to Cohen, opposing safeties will have to think twice about bolting toward the line of scrimmage to stop him. 

Every time Cohen seems to hit a rookie wall, he and the Bears find a way to knock it down. The discussion a week ago about Cohen was that he was dancing too much and not cutting upfield quick enough; this week, it’s all about his perfect quarterback rating. 

“Our coaches do a good job of continuing to put him in places so he can be successful,” fellow running back Benny Cunningham said. “But ultimately I feel like he has such a genuine love of the game, I don’t see that happening (hitting the wall). Since the day he’s been here, from Day 1 to today, I’ve seen no drop-off in his desire to be successful and to help this offense.”

The Bears have known this about Cohen's mentality since they scouted and drafted him back in the spring, and his potential only blossomed after getting him into Halas Hall in May — “Early on, we knew Tarik was going to be pretty special,” coach John Fox said. But Cohen wouldn’t be able to reach that potential without the ability to handle the responsibilities of all the different tasks the Bears have asked of him so far. 

Cohen’s ability to do so many different things makes him an important player for this team, and his ability to do them with an exciting, playmaking flair has made him a fan favorite since training camp. So what’s next for the 5-foot-6 rookie?

“I think we’ve got something — I’ll punt the ball this week,” Cohen joked. “Naw, I’m playin’. I can’t put the ball for nothing, I don’t think. It’ll probably go like 20 yards.”

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

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USA Today

The Bears defense is trending up, and could get Nick Kwiatkoski back as soon as this weekend

Nick Kwiatkoski was a full participant in Bears practice on Friday, marking the first time the second-year linebacker has done that since he suffered a pec injury Sept. 17 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, Kwiatkoski sounded confident he could make his return five weeks after suffering that painful injury. 

“It’s not really my decision,” Kwiatkoski said. “I’m preparing like I am, so we’ll see. … “In my head I am (playing). But we’ll see.”

The Bears’ defense, despite placing three key players — linebackers Willie Young and Jerrell Freeman and safety Quintin Demps — on injured reserve, has been solid at worst so far this year. Pro Football Focus has Vic Fangio’s group as the third-best defense in the NFL through Week 6, behind only the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. 

While Christian Jones played some quality snaps next to Danny Trevathan (and John Timu — he struggled after Timu’s injury against Minnesota), Kwiatkoski represents an upgrade at inside linebacker. The Bears liked what Kwiatkoski did last year in place of an injured Trevathan, and were confident they wouldn’t miss a beat with him filling in after Freeman’s Week 1 injury. 

“He’s a smart guy who has been willing to work,” coach John Fox said. “And I’ve seen that improvement from last year to this year. And anytime you get whacked or injured or taken out for some reason, you’ve got to kind of regain that again. It’s like a do-over. So he has had a good week.”

Kwiatkoski stayed sharp by going through meetings and film study as if he were playing while that pec injury — which he said felt like a “bad pulled muscle” — kept him sidelined for practices and games. If Kwiatkoski indeed is active and/or starting Sunday against Carolina, the hope is he can step in and pick up where he left off in Week 2. 

“I have all the confidence that he'll do fine,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said prior to Kwiatkoski’s injury. And that confidence, in all likelihood, still exists.